The quest to keep the world well supplied with coffee has for a long time involved considerable marginalization and exploitation of small-scale producers. Fair trade standards aim to transform this reality by providing producers with an above-market price, on the condition that they meet specific labor, environmental, and production standards. Yet, many skeptics question whether coffee producers are really benefiting.
Against this background, Fair Trade USA has announced a new effort to double the benefits for farmers and workers by 2015, which is known as the Fair Trade for All (FT4ALL) Initiative and includes a comprehensive plan to assess the results of the pilot program.
The new initiative is brewing a project to be led by CIAT in partnership with the Ford Foundation, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (the world’s largest buyer of fair trade coffee), and others.
Across coffee regions of Peru, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Brazil, researchers will assess the effects of the new FT4ALL initiative on smallholder farmers, newly certification-eligible farmers, and the fair trade market system.
The 3-year project will also assess the impact of FT4ALL on empowerment and poverty reduction for smallholder coffee farmers and their households; analyze how organizational processes shift as a result of FT4ALL certification; and identify the effects of the pilot program on the fair trade certified coffee market, including the price and volume of coffee traded.
To engage stakeholders in an evidence-based debate about fair trade coffee models, a platform will be developed to share the methods and results of the study, as they become available. Through this process, “the project hopes to illuminate what has been, to date, an ideologically charged debate notable for its vitriol and near complete lack of data,” said project leader Mark Lundy.
A growing number of “conscious consumers” are paying higher retail prices for fair trade coffee. Annual imports of fair trade certified coffee in the USA have expanded by an average of 50% each year for the past 10 years.
“The coffee trade is crucial to the livelihoods of rural smallholder farmers in Latin America,” said Carolina González, CIAT economist, who added that coffee is the second most valuable commodity exported from developing countries, after petroleum. “Coffee production is not easy work. Farmers labor in the hot sun, hauling 100-pound bags of fertilizer up steep mountains.”
The new standards launched by Fair Trade USA may help ensure that coffee producers see the rewards of their diligence.
Undoubtedly, a good cup of coffee can change your day. This unique project will assess whether FT4ALL’s conscious coffee can help change the lives of rural farming households.
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Photos by Neil Palmer (CIAT)